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Heat's Jimmy Butler, 3 others, ejected after scuffle with Pelicans

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New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) argues with the referee, left, after being fouled by Miami Heat forward Kevin Love (not shown) while Pelicans forward Naji Marshall (8) and Heat forward Jimmy Butler, right, get into a scuffle during the second half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. Marshall and Butler were later ejected. Matthew Hinton / AP

Miami's Jimmy Butler was among four players ejected after a scuffle early in the fourth quarter in the Heat's 106-95 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night.

"I don't think I should have gotten thrown out of the game," Butler said, noting that he was trying to keep Pelicans forward Naji Marshall away from Kevin Love when he put his hand on Marshall's neck.

Heat reserve Thomas Bryant and two Pelicans — Marshall and Jose Alvarado — also were ejected after fisticuffs erupted with 11:19 left and Miami leading 84-81.

The scuffle began after Pelicans star forward Zion Williamson stole the ball from Butler, and Love grabbed Williamson to prevent an uncontested layup.

As Love was whistled for a foul, Williamson fell to the court and Marshall rushed in to object to the way Williamson was fouled.

"I wasn't tripping about K-Love because he actually protected me on my fall," Williamson said. "All of a sudden I see Butler kind of lunging toward Naji, so I'm trying to get there like, 'Yo, relax, like what's going on?'" Williamson said.

But Williamson also said the type of intensity on display during the standoff is "hard not to love."

"It's people competing — people riding for their teammates," he said.

Butler suggested that Williamson flopped, adding that Williamson, "knew he shouldn't have did that."

"Then (Marshall) came and put his hands on K-Love and that's how it all escalated," Butler said.

Butler engaged Marshall and they briefly grabbed each other by the neck as teammates and coaches animatedly swarmed around them.

"It was just, I think, a misunderstanding of the play," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "I think Zion slipped on the play when K-Love grabbed him and it looked a lot worse than what it was. And then everybody kind of overreacted.

"I think they interpreted that K-Love threw (Williamson) down. On K-Love's best day, I don't think he could throw him down."

After it appeared that officials had managed to separate the teams, Bryant and Alvarado began bickering near the scorers' table and exchanged blows as a new scrum formed around them.

Emotions flared in the stands as well.

A fan wearing a Pelicans jersey began throwing things at Miami players as Alvarado and Bryant scuffled and was ejected by security. Soon after, a fan wearing a Heat jersey was escorted out.

Officials reviewed video of the altercations for several minutes before deciding on the four ejections. Love was assessed a common foul.

Fans gave Marshall and Alvarado, both popular reserves known for feisty play, a standing ovation as they left the court. Marshall and Alvarado left the arena without speaking with reporters.

The altercation could result in discipline from the NBA such as fines or suspensions. But Spoelstra said the intensity on the court that led to the melee "is what competitors want. It's what the fans want. It's what everybody wants and sometimes it boils over unfortunately."

"We'll just see what happens from the league," Spoelstra said. "Everybody's intentions were right at first but you get a bunch of competitive people out there and it kind of boiled over."

Butler said he would not be surprised if some of the intensity from Friday's game carries over to the clubs' next meeting in Miami on March 22.

"We'll beat them the next time, too," Butler said after the game. "We're just a better team.

"Our team is so ready for anything that anybody's thrown at us," Butler added. "We're so together, playing some incredible basketball. I don't think it matters who we go up against right now. It's that time of the year."



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